All Willie Nelson pot-smoking jokes aside, Sunday afternoon's Stuart House benefit at the John Varvatos boutique in West Hollywood -- including a musical performance by the country singer and sons Lukas and Micah -- marked a serious high point in the annual event, raising a record $939,000 in just five hours.
That tops the $830,000 raised in the same window at last year's event. Since the final 2013 tally grew by $120,000 by the time the online auction period ended 11 days later, we're guessing this year's post-event on-line bids and donations will push the funds raised over the $1 million mark.
The funds, which will benefit Stuart House, a program of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, couldn't come at a better time, according to the program's founder and director, Gail Abarbanel.
"This is a landmark year," Abarbanel told a celebrity-heavy crowd that included co-hosts Amy Adams and Darren Le Gallo, LL Cool J and Courtney Love. "In a few weeks, we'll be breaking ground on a new building that will double our capacity and allow us to do the necessary training. ... Think of this as a ground-breaking event in advance of the ground-breaking event."
Abarbanel was followed to the stage by Adams and her fiancé, fellow actor and co-host Le Gallo. Adams, who has been involved with the organization since hosting a fundraiser brunch five years ago, profusely thanked the crowd for showing up -- and opening up their wallets.
"Thank you all for coming," she said, "It's easy to turn away [from a topic like this]. Thank you for not turning away."
With that, a spirited live auction -- conducted by comedian Bill Bellamy -- got under way, starting with an electric guitar signed by the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "We'll even throw in a pair of tube socks," Bellamy said -- a reference to the band's famously naked-but-for-the-socks album cover. The winning bid went to LL Cool J, who dropped a cool $8,000 and took the stage to accept the guitar -- and a pair of (thankfully new) socks.
"Now I've got some tube socks for my next concert," he quipped.
After that, a blur of items followed, including a VIP pass to the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival in Ojai (a last-minute addition that went for $3,250), a personal shopping spree with John Varvatos that fetched $20,000 (When Bellamy joked that the winning bidder would get the opportunity to "smoke some weed with John Varvatos," the designer joked right back: "OK, I'll throw that in too!")
After the live auction, country music legend (and OG of celebrity pot consumption) Willie Nelson took to the stage for a mini-concert of sorts, accompanied by sons Lukas and Micah and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, turning out a generous set that started with "Whiskey River" and included crowd favorites "On the Road Again," "Crazy" and our personal favorite, "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die."
In addition to the A-listers mentioned above, celebrity supporters on hand included Rachel Zoe (fresh off her Festival of Books appearance the day before) in the Hasbro-sponsored kid's tent with son Skyler, Romany Malco ("Weeds"), Donald Faison ("Scrubs"), stylist George Kotsiopoulos ("Fashion Police") and Melina Kanakaredes ("CSI: NY").
Silent auction items from the 11th annual John Varvatos Stuart House benefit will be up for bid at charitybuzz.com/johnvarvatos through April 23.
[For The Record, 10:58 a.m. PDT April 23: An earlier version of this post identified the Stuart House benefit's beneficiary program at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center as the Rape Treatment Crisis Center. It is the Rape Treatment Center.]
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